CG character doubles for globally renowned model

Courtesy of CyberAgent, Inc.
Fashion model Ai Tominaga, right, and her digital twin. “I can’t tell which one is my twin if I look at them separately,” Tominaga said in surprise.

A new service that creates 3D models of celebrities has drawn attention once again to just how much the real and digital worlds have melded in the field of art and entertainment.

“Digital Twin Label” was launched in August by the major information technology company CyberAgent, Inc. The aim is to create 500 avatars, or digital twins, by 2023 that will pursue various “activities” in the virtual world.

The first celebrity to be duplicated was international fashion model Ai Tominaga. Her entire body was scanned by numerous cameras, and the characteristics of her movements and voice were digitized. Using the latest artificial intelligence technology, CyberAgent created a digital twin identical to Tominaga.

“As times change, art also changes. As someone who is photographed, I have to respond flexibly,” Tominaga asserted.

CyberAgent’s endeavor is a declaration that the digital world will provide a new space for artists to work in. Computer graphics can now re-create backgrounds so realistic that it’s hard to tell them apart from actual ones, making it possible to produce commercials, music videos and other content even if an actor or musician is unavailable in person — their digital twin can be combined with CG backgrounds.

“Society will be full of digital characters in the foreseeable future,” said Rowland Kirishima, director of CyberHuman Productions, Inc., which jointly created the digital twin. “I was a photographer, so it’s sad that on-location shooting may cease to exist. But less cost-effective things are eliminated, as happens in all other fields.”

Kirishima, 53, has his eyes on both reality and the future.

The copyright for the digital twin belongs to CyberAgent and the image rights to Tominaga. Even though it’s a digital character, the twin will be treated like a human being — when CyberAgent receives offers for the twin’s appearance, it plans to strictly follow the necessary procedures, such as obtaining approval from Tominaga and her talent agency.

“Even though I’m digitized, I’m just me. All I can imagine now is that my digital self will walk on a runway or appear in TV commercials. But the truth is not within the realm of imagination; it’s likely beyond our imagination. We don’t know the answer and that’s why we have dreams,” Tominaga said, anticipating new possibilities for expression.

Resurrecting a star

CG opens many doors in the world of images.

“Changes equivalent to those that occurred over the past three decades are now taking place over 12 or even six months,” said Shigeo Morishima, a professor at Waseda University in the field of intelligent informatics. Currently, human workers store data, but “as AI deep learning advances, computers will automatically do it,” Morishima said.

New issues are arising, too. In autumn 2019, a press conference was held in the United States announcing a new film featuring James Dean (1931-55), an actor known for films including “East of Eden” and who died in a car accident at age 24. The plan was to bring Dean back to life using CG and have him play the second lead in the movie.

This led to questions as to what constitutes an actor and a human being, and famous actors and others expressed their disgust on social media. The movie was originally scheduled to come out last year, but so far not even a release date has been announced.

CG characters that move as the director pleases could be a betrayal of actors. Playwright Juro Kara, 81, advocated the theory of the “privileged body,” claiming that actors should outshine plays and staging.

According to Ken Kuboi, who has carried on Kara’s ideas and is currently in charge of staging for the theater company Karagumi: “Real human beings have their own lives, and their ways of thinking are deeply rooted within them. The audience comes to watch an actor who has a unique body operating [playing] the role. There is a realism that only that actor can re-create.”

Such attempts at “reviving” people could also undermine human dignity. An actor might be brought back to life without authorization and forced to play a role that they would not have accepted if they were alive.